Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Talk-talk rather than war-war in Iran

The United States has entered into negotiations with Iran.  It’s about time, it seems to me.  Indeed, they have come to a temporary agreement along the path of limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.  Sounds good to me.  The goal for the U.S. is to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and the goal for Iran is to have the sanctions lifted, or maybe more to the point, the goal for Iran is to be accepted as a normal country in the world.  

Apparently Henry Kissinger stated a while ago that Iran had to decide whether to be a cause or a nation.  Perhaps this negotiation is a good sign that they have decided to become a nation rather than a cause.  Certainly the people of Iran did their best to elect the most moderate candidate they could to be their elected leader. 

Israel is furious, or rather the right wing faction of Israel is furious.  The Republicans are furious, or rather the right wing faction of the Republican party is furious.  They decided long ago that Iran is not to be trusted, that Iran is dedicated to nuclear annihilation of Israel, and that Iran will say anything that allows them to develop the bomb and destroy Israel, and that Iran is eager to have every Iranian living in Iran become a martyr to the holy cause of eliminating Israel.  Long ago they decided this.  Long ago.

Personally, I think the right wings in Israel and the Republican party are a little nuts.  I can well imagine that Iran wants to have nukes and may be willing to be devious to get them.  But I don’t think that Iran is ready to immolate itself in order to immolate Israel.  I would imagine that if I were an Iranian I would think that if it’s OK for Israel to have nukes it should be OK for Iran to have nukes. 

At any rate, talk-talk is a lot better than war-war, and I’m glad to see Obama willing to step away from toeing the line of Israel and the Israel lobby in the U.S., and for him to come up with a less hostile and domineering approach to the Middle East.  I understand that this is especially unnerving to the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party since the foundation of that ideology seems to be a hyper-masculine, super-tough, gun-totin’ rootin’-tootin’ brand of manhood, expressed best by Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman (oddly enough).  Never compromise, or give in, or negotiate anything for any reason at any time, just stick-to-your-guns and congratulate yourself on your extraordinary bravery - this seems to be their modus operandi.

Time for a new approach.  I have hopes that Obama and Iran are on a new track that can end quite well.  Who knows, Israel might get tired of their own Sarah Palins and find a way to make deals for safety rather than intimidate their way to safety.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The nuclear option and political extremism

Democratic Majority leader, Harry Reid, exercised the "nuclear option" today in the Senate.  He passed a new rule that eliminates the 60 vote filibuster in order for a vote to go to the Senate floor for a vote.  This will apply only to presidential nominees, and will not apply to presidential Supreme Court nominees, nor will it apply to legislation.

There are two terrible things about this, in my view.  

First, I think it is terrible that the Republicans forced this to happen.  I am sure that the Reps are pleased that the Dems have gone nuclear.  This allows them to blame the Dems for the hyper-partisanship in the Senate and in Congress.  And it clears the way for them to eliminate the filibuster on everything if they take control of the Senate in 2014, which they think is now possible with Obamacare on the ropes.

But, in filibustering three consecutive judge nominees for the D.C. district court they announced loudly and clearly that they fully intended to filibuster pretty much everyone that Obama nominated.  They have a long and inglorious record of blocking Obama nominees for both the bench and for heads of departments.  The Dems did it to W as well, but not even close to as much as the Reps have done it to Obama.

Second, I think it is terrible that the Dems did this.  The good news is that the filibuster has only been eliminated for presidential appointees, and not for normal legislation.  The point of the filibuster has been to make the Senate different than the House.  In the House, the majority rules, period.  The minority might as well not even show up.  What the majority wants to pass, they pass.  An example is the Republican led House, dominated by a Tea Party bloc, has passed over 40 bills to repeal Obamacare.  With no Dem votes needed or paid attention to.  If the Senate does away with the filibuster altogether, it becomes another House of Representatives and the majority just passes whatever it wants to if they stay together.  This allows a party in power of each house to pass only hyper-partisan, ideologically pure laws.  This is already happening in the House.  No compromise, just ideological purity.  

The big issue is partisan warfare.  In the House, the war is total.  The Reps are totally dedicated to stopping any and all things the Dems want.  In the Senate, the war is almost as total, and the filibuster allowed the Reps to be almost as obstructionist as the Reps in the House.

Eliminating the filibuster allows the president to nominate more ideologically extreme judges and department heads because he won't need any votes from the opposition party.  You can say Obama never got votes from the Reps anyhow, but the world turns and time passes and this now becomes an institutional push toward more and more judges and department heads who are deeply entrenched in the ideological wars of the president and the majority party.

I hope that Obama treads lightly here, and does not appoint left wing extremists as judges and as department and cabinet heads.  If he can restrain himself and nominate candidates that he can truthfully say are more centrist and professional and would be able to get some opposition party votes if the partisan warfare weren't at such a fevered pitch, then he can help tamp down some of the future partisanship that is possible to come as a result of the new filibuster rules.  

But, if he takes this opportunity to stack the courts and appointments with left wing nutcases, he will pour gasoline on the partisan fires.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bill Clinton leads the charge away from Obama's false promise

When the Big Dog, Bill Clinton, tells Obama that he has to honor the promise he made to the American people that they could keep the health care plans they had if they wanted to, you know that something really bad is happening in Democrat Party land.  

First, it is astonishing that someone has to tell the president of the United States that it's not OK to make major promises on issues central to his presidency that he knows he cannot keep.  Why would anyone have to tell the president that he can't lie to the American people about something so central to his presidency and get away with it?  And it's not like Bill Clinton is St. Francis of Assisi.  He is the man who said "it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is."  After all, "Clintonian" is a word meaning sneaky, something that sounds truthful but is not really.  

Second, Bill Clinton was just leading the charge of Democrats away from a president who has become toxic to the brand.  It looks to me like he was helping put as much distance as he could between Hilary and Obama.  Other Dems followed quickly calling for legislation that would honor Obama's deceitful promise.

I really don't understand why Obama is so inept at communication.  When he said "if you like your plan you can keep your plan" it now appears that he knew that was a lie.  He could have told a little more complicated thing like - "We put a grandfather clause in the bill that allows you to keep your plan that was in existence at the time Obamacare was signed into law. (Probably)."  That would have been true and defensible and could have been fine for the campaign.  But, Obama was trying to win re-election, so he "simplified" the message.  Or, more to the point, he lied about it.  

What on earth did he plan to do when the cancellation letters started showing up?  He knew they would.  Did he think the mainstream media would just explain it all away for him?  Did he think that he is some kind of exception and people would just forget about it and let him off the hook?  Did he think that the Reps were so discredited that no one would pay any attention to them?

This in more than a fumble or a mistake.  This is a matter of judgment and character.  

I thought that the Reps were insane to place all of their eggs in the Obamacare basket on the hope that the new law would be a catastrophe.  I thought their 40 plus votes to repeal or defund Obamacare was lunacy. I still think shutting down the government and threatening default on government bills was ridiculously stupid for them to do.  But it certainly etched it in the public's mind that they hated Obamacare.  And if Obamacare doesn't work, they may actually make political gains after all.

The Reps can't possibly be seen as a viable political party, unless, of course, they run against the Dems, who used to look reasonable, but now are weighted down by a president who looks to be a person somewhere between incompetent and deceitful.

It's probably never as bad as it seems when it's bad, and never as good as it seems when it's good, but right now it is not good for Obama, or for Dems.  Just ask Bill Clinton.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Silicon Valley guys took three days to create a website to sign up for Obamacare!

Three guys in their twenties. One room. Four desks. Three days. Result?  A website to sign up for new health insurance under Obamacare. Good grief!  

One of the three masterminds, George Kalogeropoulis, who created healthsherpa.com says:

"We were surprised to see that it was actually fairly difficult to use HealthCare.gov to find and understand our options," he told CNN. "Given that the data was publicly available, we thought that it made a lot of sense to take the data that was on there and just make it easy to search through and view available plans."
The result is a bare-bones site that lets users enter their zip code, plus details about their family and income, to find suggested plans in their area.
Good grief. 

The website leads you to a plan of your choice, and then it is up to you to call or click through to the insurer, or to go to the government site to sign up. Seems pretty easy, except if you try to use the government site, of course. 

                "Creating the original Sherpa site took three days and cost "several hundred dollars," according to Kalogeropoulos. The three programmers have continued fine-tuning the site as its popularity has grown. In less than a week, the site has had almost 200,000 unique visitors and over half a million page views, he said."

Cost them several hundred dollars?  

Good grief.

So, even though I get my insurance through my employer I went to the website to see how easy it was.  It was easy.  I was presented with 29 plans to choose from.  I was given a phone number to call to sign up, and given the option to click through to the insurer's website to sign up.  I was informed that I didn't qualify for a subsidy.
The prices were kind of shocking, but that is to be expected.  Insurance is costly.  So it goes.

If you are one of the few who does not get their insurance through your employer, give this site a shot.  You will be given choices in about a minute. Signing up is up to you.

Good grief.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Moffett quits pro football to protect his body and his brain

I've been writing about how football causes brain injuries which result in depression, violent behavior, even suicide in players in their later years.  I think the data is pretty conclusive, but if I look at TV it just seems hopeless for the athletes because football is a huge multi-billion dollar industry.  How will this ever go away?  It is loved by fans, by beer makers, by auto makers, by sports games makers, by TV executives, by pretty much every boy and man in the country, by football players themselves... wait, maybe not by the players themselves, at least not for some of them now, and maybe more later.

What if the football players themselves decided that they don't want to play anymore?  What if the players start to understand that it's not just their knees and bones and organs that are being destroyed so that others can make millions off of their bodies?  

What if players start to realize that no matter how tough they are, no matter how much pain they can tolerate, no matter how much they pride themselves in being able to get off the ground and come back at full speed... there is nothing they can do to toughen their brains, that blob of jello inside their skulls that gets damaged again and again and again when they block or tackle or be blocked or be tackled, even when they don't have a full loss of consciousness concussion they can start to know that they are getting brain damage with sub-concussions many times a game, a season, a career? What if they start to think even the money and glamour and fame and lifestyle isn't  worth it?

One man decided that it's not worth it.  John Moffett is walking away from a guaranteed million dollars, and from his future in pro football. What he has to say gives me hope.  

Sports radio commentator Jim Rhome had this to say today.  He says Moffitt said:

 “I just really thought about it and decided I’m not happy. I’m not happy at all. And I think it’s really madness to risk your body, risk your well-being and risk your happiness for money. Everybody, they just don’t get it and they think it’s crazy. But I think what I was doing is crazy.”
Moffitt just left a million bucks on the table and a shot at a Super Bowl run with Denver…and it’s probably the smartest thing he’ll ever do.  A million bucks is great… Quality of life is better.
And what good is the dough if you spend every single day in a dark, quiet room with a scrambled brain.  Moffitt could retire now with his mind and body intact… Or he could get fired in a few years after hundreds of more headshots, bad knees a slightly bigger nest egg.
I don’t think he’s crazy at all. I respect him for making the call.  We’d all love to have his life, and all this dude wants, is ours.
Moffett is also quoted as saying:

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A synergistic solution to health care problems

September was a bad month for the Republicans (Congressional Republicans shut down the government and tried to stop paying about 30% of the government's bills).  They looked like nutjobs who couldn't be trusted to run a car wash let alone the government.

And October was a bad month for Obama and the Democrats.  The Obamacare rollout has been a disaster.  The website is apparently terrible, and millions are losing their insurance despite repeated promises by Obama that if you wanted to keep your existing insurance you could.  

At the heart of liberalism is a trust in government.  Obama's trustworthiness is justifiably dismal, and government's trustworthiness is even lower - the government looks like it just isn't up to the size and complexity of Obamacare, which has been the conservative charge against government for decades - nameless bureaucrats with little interest in the people they serve mindlessly enforcing rules impersonally and destructively on a helpless public.

Two things that stand out loud and clear from September is that Republicans really, really hate Obamacare, and Democrats really, really like it - or at least the Dems really want it to work.

I may be one of the only people in the country that never had a strong opinion about Obamacare.  I had to agree with the Dems that the old health care system was fundamentally flawed because it didn't cover everybody, had limits on insurance payouts resulting in bankruptcy for middle class people inflicted with catastrophic medical emergencies, and denied coverage to people with pre-existing conditions (which would eventually be almost everyone as they grew older).  These were very serious problems that had to be addressed and Obamacare addressed them.  But is it functional?

On the other hand, I have to agree with the Reps that trying to take one sixth of the economy under the control of the federal government just may be more than the government is capable of handling.  

The problem with the Reps is they don't really have an alternative.  Oh, I understand there are a bunch of Reps with various ideas, but there is no easy to explain workable Republican alternative that is being championed by the party to move forward - either to fix Obamacare or to replace it with a conservative alternative that addresses coverage for everybody, prevents medical bankruptcies, and cares for people with pre-existing conditions.

I have a suggestion for the Reps to present as an improvement/replacement.  It is unlikely that anyone will champion it, but I have always liked it.

The conservative economist from Harvard, Martin Feldstein, has what could be called the 15% solution.  

The government gives every family or independent person a voucher that pays for all health care costs above 15% of their annual income.  If any want to have more coverage, they pay for more.  

This takes away bankruptcy by medical catastrophe.  It takes away previous medical history exclusions. It eliminates rationing. This takes away caps on payouts. It eliminates bureaucrats deciding which health procedures to allow.  This introduces buying savvy in the purchase of care and thus reduces the overall cost of healthcare in the country.  It keeps the insurance companies in business. It creates competition in the insurance industry to compete for clients. It's a conservative solution.

If people have problems paying the first 15% they will have a government issued credit card, at a low rate, enough to cover the bureaucratic costs of handling loans, with no profits and no exorbitant salaries.  

Everyone gets the voucher and credit card which could be used only for insurance.  Bold, easy to explain, covers everyone.  Feldstein says that costs of the vouchers is in line with existing government expenditures, so there is no increase in government costs.

Plus, surprise surprise, it would be a synergy of liberal and conservative ideas - liberal Obamacare based on caring and compassion, and conservative adjustment based on the freedom and power of markets. Both parties could be proud of creating a better health care system for the country. Of course, that would mean they would have to stop hating each other and demonizing each other.  A bridge too far?

I think it could be a good solution to our health care debacle.  Dems could see it as an improvement to Obamacare (replace full coverage for everyone with catastrophic care for everyone).  Reps could see it as a replacement (replace full care for everyone with vouchers and a government issued credit card for everyone - no fines for not participating, no incentives for not participating).
One thing is guaranteed. At this point in time the Reps have put everything into making sure Obamacare doesn't work, and Dems have put everything into making sure Obamacare does work.  

I just want a health care system that covers everyone including those with pre-existing conditions, and prevents medical catastrophe bankruptcies. If Obamacare works, those concerns are more or less handled, if it doesn't, maybe the 15% solution could work.